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Archive for November, 2010

In Life’s name, and for Life’s sake, I assert that I will use the Art which is its gift in Life’s service alone, rejecting all other usages. I will guard growth and ease pain; I will fight to preserve what grows and lives well in its own way, nor will I change any creature unless its growth and life, or that of the system of which it is part, is threatened or threatens another. To these ends, in the practice of my Art, I will ever put aside fear for courage, and Death for Life, when it is right to do so, looking always towards the Heart of Time, where all our wounded times are one, and all our myriad worlds lie whole, in That from Which they proceeded —

Next to the “I Believe” speech from American Gods, this is the closest I have to a formal religious creed. I was raised Catholic and I’ve identified as a transcendentalist for several years. Some people may notice a certain amount of tension between the two identities — a belief system that focuses on the Mass and a belief system that focuses on the individual finding God in his or her own way — and I’m aware of this. I like it. As someone who tries to embrace the contradictory aspects of her own personality, and not just try to force them all into alignment with each other, I appreciate the sensibility. Big chunks of my personality can be traced back to the ritual and hierarchy of my Mass-attending childhood; equally big parts come from my adolescent discovery of a way to find god in nature and other people.

But Catholicism and Transcendentalism ain’t got nothing on Diane Duane.

The title of this blog comes from “So You Want To Be A Wizard”, a children’s novel published four years before I was born, the first in a series of nine books (the latest was just published this past March).  They’re higher quality and better written than anything by Rowling; the characters are more engaging and the conflict between good and evil more nuanced. Things aren’t simple; there is no one enemy whose defeat will solve everything.

And wound through everything is the Wizard’s Oath — a promise to preserve life and all things living, to slow down the eventual heat-death of the universe, to stop pain if I can.

And that means my own pain too.

When things are bad with me I have to find a way to get through things. I’m accustomed to using structured forms to soothe myself, whether it’s pacing the same path in the kitchen or knitting or keeping the same half-dozen words from whatever scene I’m working on running through my head. The first half of my senior year at college was rough for me, with a broken ankle and a thesis that badly needed attention and a mental state all scrambled by some stupid girl. I was hauling myself through every single day with my teeth gritted and my shoulders stiff. I was tired and I was overwhelmed and I was hurt. I needed something to hold onto, to remind myself that there were people and a world and a whole wide universe outside of my own head.

And so every day I put my fingers to the copy of the Oath above my pillow and I said the words out loud. I said it and sometimes I cried with the ache of how hard it is to put aside fear. I don’t know if I believe in God but I believe in the Heart of Time, where we will be reunited with everyone and everything that we’ve loved and lost. So every morning for weeks, and every evening, I promised that I would look towards that place and away from entropy. I said to the one who stood behind me, Fairest and Fallen, greetings and defiance, and reminded myself that we are all equal in the One.

And it helped. It helped to find strength in something greater than myself, even if it was only something from a children’s novel. I was coping through ritual and creed, the only way I knew how. I wrote the Oath everywhere, including against the darkness behind my eyes. And slowly I came out of it. Slowly, it became easier to know that this was the right when to put aside pain.

This is how I worship. These are the words I say.

For Life. For Life. For Life.

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Sometimes work makes me really sad.

Let me explain: I work part time at what is essentially a medical journal. Part of my job is to go  through all these pictures which we use in the text and take down what part of a person they show and whether we need to get a disclosure from them because it is clear who they are. Like tattoos or genital area (okay, maybe genitals do not show who you are, but I mark those as a higher priority because would you want your bits published without signing off on it?) or face. And like maybe 90% of the time this is fine — sometimes horrifying, because I am a massive hypochondriac, but mostly fine — but sometimes I run into something that makes me sit back and rub my eyes and heave a very long, very sad sigh.

Last week I was doing Pediatrics.

Now this is sort of an upsetting topic to be working with in general; sick kids are never fun and they are nearly always unhappy in the pictures. Some of the images are postmortem and that’s really, really depressing. As they say, though, you can get used to anything — and I move so fast through the list that it’s hard to take  it all in. But I do have to look at each image long enough to note down what it is, and that means I have to look at what it is.

I’d already run into several images of children with intersex conditions, one of which ticked me off because the caption referred to the child as “hermaphrodite”, which I looked up later to check if it was still okay to use in certain medical situations (it’s not). However, that’s a fairly recent change, and the copyright is clearly a handful of years old, so whatever.

Then I ran into a pair of images that was clearly the same child (genetically female but phenotypically male) before and after “corrective” surgery and suddenly I was just plain unhappy. This kid’s future had been determined almost before their eyes were open by doctors who could not possibly know what gender they were going to be as an adult. I just can’t help thinking — what if that child who is socialized as a little girl grows up and realizes that ze is actually a guy? Or what if ze had been allowed to be a child who simply had non-normative genitals, and were taught that they were just fine the way they were? Intersex kids grow up mentally healthy when they are left well enough alone (hello, Hida Valoria), and there is just absolutely no reason to cut up a child’s genitalia without their permission. For those thinking “But we circumcise boys!” I say three things: 1, should we even be doing that anymore, really? 2, there are lifelong continuing serious physical and psychological effects, and 3, doctors are massively altering body parts that are completely healthy and undamaged, sometimes without parental consent. For those of you who believe that does not happen, you are wrong.

I ache for this unnamed child. I was talking to Jim about this last night, and he agreed with me when I said that I sort of hope for a kid who is intersex, simply because Jim and I, by virtue of being a queer woman and a transmasculine guy in a committed relationship, think a lot about sexuality and gender and sex, and how much being told you should be a certain way hurts. I want to tell my child from day one that non-typical genitalia doesn’t mean anything, that if they want to be a boy they can be, and if they want to be a girl they can be, and if they want to be both or neither then that’s fine too, and it’s their body and their choice.

I don’t know much about intersex. I do my reading, but it’s not even something I have personal experience with (like I do with queer and, to a lesser extent, trans issues). I feel so uninformed and so ignorant and so stuck as to where to even start learning, but even I know it is terribly, terribly wrong to do that to a child.

I am so sad that these things still happen.

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First, let me direct you over to The Analytical Couch Potato, where you will find the blog it took me three hours and a lot of ranting at Jim to write. If any of you are interested in the full text of it (about 500 words longer, The Editor and I did some cutting), let me know and I’ll message you.

One of the things I cut was this line: “[Tranny] is not like dyke, or fag, or queer — words which have been reclaimed by the current LGBQ population as descriptors and positives.” I didn’t want to take it out, and neither did The Editor (who is fascinated by the general subject of changing connotations) but it wasn’t essential and anyway, I have my own blog to talk about things like that.

And trust me, it’s going to need the space.

One of the tags I use for these entries almost every time I write is “dyke”. On one level, it sort of misses the point of having tags if I use the same one over and over, but on another it’s the single most accurate word to describe a lot of what I talk about and where it comes from. That’s because I have to admit that my primary self-identification, at least in my head, is as a dyke. These days I’m much more likely to explain myself to people as a queer woman, and when I first came out I usually put it as “I’m a lesbian”. The latter seemed simpler; the former is more accurate, as it encompasses the fact that I date and sleep with gender-variant individuals, and doesn’t imply that I am only attracted to them because they are biologically female (something on which much, much more at a later date).

But dyke is more than just a descriptor — it’s a word I chose because it was a way to take what I felt about being young and gay and under a lot of pressure and turn it all around. Part of it comes from that deep place inside every queer teenager – hell, maybe inside every teenager – that knows what it feels like to be taunted with words that you know are hurtful, but whose meanings you don’t know, you just know that there’s a nasty punch behind them. It’s worse than knowing what the words are; I could shake off taunts about my glasses or height or tendency to read ALL THE BOOKS, because whatever, man, nothing I have not heard.

I got called a dyke starting in middle school, and I didn’t really figure out what they meant for years, but it bothered me nonetheless. Calling myself a dyke once I got to highschool was a way of disallowing them to hurt me, of saying, Yes, this is me, this is my word, this is who I am and you cannot take that away or change it. This was before I was aware of the historical connotations of dyke, and the expansive butch and dyke subculture of the 50s (read Stone Butch Blues sometime, it might just change your world), and that by calling myself one I was in fact joining in a movement of reclamation that would, within my lifetime, change the word queer from a painful slur to an encompassing term that brings everyone from gay men to asexuals to intersex people together and allows us to become a kind of family.

(Remember, though, that families sometimes families fight; that’s a whole different post.)

I call myself a dyke now because it gives me joy. Because to me it connotes strength and fierceness and an ability to get through a whole lot of shit by just lifting up your chin and walking with confidence and with purpose. It’s about picking up a haybale with one hand and moving sets and being strong for people who need me to be strong. It is the hand on the back of your neck or the small of your back that says, I will protect you. As a public speaker, I love the challenging pop of the K, the way it is a short, sharp, look-you-in-the-eye-and-dare-you-to-retort word. I love the way it can be affectionate, from a person who has earned the right to call you that.

I’m tired now, but that’s something I’ll talk about tomorrow eventually; earning the right, and why you have to do that, and why it’s important. I’ll talk about agency and those words that, in the queer community, are unacceptable. And I’ll talk about why I think reclamation of slurs is so important, and why I think it happens.

(Also, if you missed it, there’s a new post right below this one that goes with the topic.)

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I intend for this to stand as a prologue, and on its own. This is very typical of how I propose and defend any thesis, and a very early start at looking at gender and sexual identity. I am sort of proud and sort of embarrassed of it; I see a fairly clear lack of thinking about the importance of clothing and gender presentation in the trans community, which is fair because I knew little about it. And I also think there’s also some genderbendy stuff going on with dykes and butches, so that’s fine.

When I wear a skirt, I stand with my feet planted firmly on the ground, wide apart, with a hand on my hip or in my pocket, with my chin up and my shoulders square. I sit with my legs apart, the material of my skirt or dress dipping down for modesty, my elbows on my knees, my spine curved down towards my thighs so that my head is held up, my eyes level. I lace my fingers in the empty space between my knees. Or I get myself into impossible contortions in a chair, one leg underneath me and one pulled up to my chest, or Indian-style with my hands in my lap. And I wear sneakers with thick tights, and collared polo shirts, and one of two caps (newsboy and British) or a bandanna. In other words, when I wear a skirt, I look like a dyke.

This is not an accident.

It started out as an accident, though, and for a long time I thought that it was purely one. There is even a half-started essay on my hard drive whose central point was the idea that I don’t dress like I do on purpose. It’s only in the past three years that I’ve started wearing skirts on a regular basis; when I traveled to Australia I had to struggle to choose three to bring, and purchased another one after arriving. Not coincidentally, it’s over the past few years that my presentation of myself as a dyke – more on that word later – has solidified.

I don’t present as “tiny, bull-headed dyke” so strongly in spite of wearing a skirt, but because of it. A skirt is by very definition stereotypically feminine, something I am not that keen on being seen as, but I like wearing them – in summer they are cooler and easier than shorts, in winter a heavy skirt and tights keeps me warmer than jeans ever will, and there’s just no joy in dancing when your clothes don’t move with you when you twirl. But straight girls wear skirts, femmes wear skirts – and in my head I am neither, nor am I the occasional enlightened male. So how do I wear a piece of clothing I am comfortable in when I don’t wish to deal with the stereotypes associated with it?

The answer turns out to be a classic answer for queers – subvert. Make the clothing (the words, the attitude, the style, the lifestyle) your own, in a way that changes its meaning, its connotations and its stereotypes. Define it, don’t let it define you.

So I made skirts the thing that showed me clearly as a dyke. It wasn’t as hard as it might seem. Loose-legged jeans and khakis are technically men’s clothing; acting male in them doesn’t actually draw that much attention to you; it’s almost what people expect to see, and so they ignore it. But when a girl puts on a skirt and continues to act in what are traditionally male-gendered ways, she gets noticed. And if she puts on sneakers with that skirt, and a newsboy hat and a loose-fitting teeshirt…?

Think about it. Who is more noticeable sitting with her knees wide, or walking with long strides down the street, or sprawled on the floor – the woman in the skirt or the woman in pants? The former is unexpected, a direct contradiction of gender norms. Women sit with their legs together. Women walk delicately, with swaying hips. Women recline. Women wear blouses and heels, nylons and pearls. Men are the ones who are expansive in their motions, long of stride and careless of how they set themselves down, relaxed in what they wear.

So a girl who chooses – and notice I say chooses, because this (like calling one’s self a dyke) is at least partially a conscious decision – to pair the male-gendered way of moving with the female-gendered way of dressing instantly sets herself apart. And that’s the way I want it; if I wear a skirt or a dress, I don’t want to feel like I’m becoming someone else when I put it on. Instead I find ways to subvert that feminine ideal, to change and undermine it. I call myself a dyke for the same reason, despite the knee-jerk reactions of my mother’s generation; the word was and still is an insult, but in happily choosing to apply that word to myself, I challenge its definition and reinvent the meaning, making it both more and less.

I love wearing skirts, and I am proud of who I am. For a long time I was unable to reconcile those two things in my mind – what kind of dyke wears a skirt? So it was jeans, sneakers, and boy’s sweaters for me. But when I left high school and started to meet butches and femmes, dykes and tomboys, transgenders and genderqueers, I began to question the saying I’d always been taught: “The clothes make the man”. Maybe they do. But I’m a woman, and my clothes do not define me. I define my clothes by how I choose to wear them. So, when I wear a skirt and still look like a dyke, it’s not an accident.

It is a choice.

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So, a while ago I wrote about what it was like looking for an apartment. As you may have inferred from some things I’ve mentioned in past posts, we found a place just outside of Boston and right up the street from Davis Square in Somerville. I adore the location, and I think I will like the house a lot more once the heat goes on; once it hits mid-October in Massachusetts, it’s sort of inevitably cold, and once November rolls around that means the snow is not far behind. My landlord is turning on the furnace this week today, apparently, so that’s all fine.

I live on the first floor of a small white house with two boys. The best part of the place is the front room, where I spend less time than I should (it’s cold!) but is flooded with light about half of the day. We have two couches and two nest-chairs and a TV and a little dinner table and a pumpkin and a bookshelf. The kitchen is next; the floor is dirty but the stove works and so does the fridge. I am slowly exerting, shall we say, a feminine influence. My room is on the right, off the kitchen, furthest from the boys. My closet has a delightful little hidey space (which is uh, full of boxes) and my room has new curtains and my dresser and bookshelves, and my bed on which I sprawl and work and eat and have intimacies and sleep and read, and a goatskin rug and clothes everywhere. The boys rooms are at the end of the hall; the bathroom is between us. The bathroom is ALWAYS a mess and I am putting off dealing with it until I have a full day and gloves. Chalkey’s room is the only one where you can get in through a window. (For some reason, he left his door locked and we do not have keys to it, and neither of us knew how to get in with a credit card, so we got to find this out last night.)

The rent is reasonable and the location great. I’m starting to be happy here, really and honestly; I am learning how to pick up my chin and take a walk instead of moping, to call my friends when I am sad, to ask if I can come over sometime, to take action instead of stalling. I have a weekly schedule (a loose one at least) and I know where to get fresh pasta. I am a grown-up.

Also, I just got offered a job. More on that later, when I’m not reeling with exhaustion — I’m just home from a Dresden Dolls concert and it was glorious.

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…that I’ve been talking a lot more about LGBTQetc topics than many of you might be used to. I was — all things considered — pretty quiet about them during college, and aside from the constant refrain of “Hello, my name is Bones and I’m a lesbian”, I didn’t start talking about more than the most basic of queer subjects until fairly late in the game. I mean, everyone knew I was for equality (duh), not getting beaten up for being different (duh), and civil unions for all couples, which would have the the same rights as afforded by what is currently known marriage, and then a religious ceremony if you want it (admittedly not so duh).

Part of the reason I’m talking more about this stuff now is that I have more time to actually work through it properly in my head before I say it. Part of it is Jim, as dating him opens up a new section of worries and issues in the queer community to talk about. Part of it is that I’m living with a straight kid now (and more on my living situation later) and find myself having to explain things more frequently, in simple language.

And part of the reason I’m talking more now is because I’m a lot angrier.

I’m angry about a lot of things.

But I am not always angry! I am simply always thinking about things these days. Sometimes I’m confused? Or speechless or flail-y or just hurt. Or I am terribly amused, because something  is just so… I don’t know. Suddenly hilarious in a way it totally never was before? Like, I was listening the other week at work to soundtracks, and I was a chunk of the way through RENT when I started to laugh out loud at my desk. Now as a rule, I can take Rent or leave it (this pun was not on purpose), but there’s some great stuff going on with Tom Collins and Angel that I see as surprisingly analogous to what’s going on with me and Jim. I’m going to use two songs – Santa Fe and You’ll See  – to prove a bit of a point here. Here’s a quote from You’ll See, and then another from Santa Fe.

[COLLINS]
I like boys

[ANGEL]
Boys like me

[Angel]

New York City!

[Collins]

Uh-huh.

[Angel]

Center of the universe.

[Collins]

Sing it, girl.

Angel is, or appears to be (for those who have not actually seen the bloody movie which is NO ONE), a crossdresser or a transvestite. Or possibly transgender — there’s really no way to tell short of asking her, which is of course impossible. Angel is referred to by both gender pronouns through the movie; Mimi refers to Angel as being female and “looking good” when she comes back from her near-death experience where they saw each other. So I don’t know, but now I wonder; Collins is exclusively a gay man, but Angel is almost always referred to as female or feminine. Six months ago I wouldn’t have even though about that relationship, you know? Now I hear how Collins addresses Angel! As his Queen, and I wonder – does he mean that as a queen-y gay man, or as a woman? Does he struggle with his sexuality because of that? Or does love make everything easier?

So that makes my day when I hear things like that. But unfortunately I am more often angry. Here is a list: I am angry when someone does not recognize the difference between gender and sex and swaps back and forth between them in a piece of supposedly scientific writing; I am angry when someone uses hermaphrodite instead of intersex in a piece of supposedly scientific writing; I am furious that people still think it is okay to ‘fix’ intersex kids, and will do so without any compunction; I am angry because my boyfriend is not protected at work by ENDA, but I am (at least in Massachusetts, lesbians, gays, and bisexuals are protected against discrimination in their place of business, but those in the trans spectrum aren’t); I am angry at Glee and how they handled Rocky Horror; I am angry at my mother and family for making assumptions about my sexuality and about Jim’s gender, and how those two fit together; I am furious at those people in the queer community who are cruel to trans people, and who try to decide my identity for me when I date one; I am spitting mad about those individuals who use ignorance as an excuse (more than once; I’m ignorant too, sometimes).

I share a lot of these furies with Jim — the main difference is that where Jim is shy and introverted, I am really, really not.  That means that when I am angry, you hear it and you hear it often. My (straight) roommate gets the brunt of this sometimes; however, this is already a long entry.

But that’s why you’re going to hear me a lot more often these days, talking about gender and sexuality with an undercurrent of poorly-concealed rage. This Thursday I’ll become a contributing writer at the Analytical Couch Potato, talking about Glee and transphobia, where I will be flailing angrily — with Jim’s help — about reader’s response and linguistics and ignorance and fear.

Check it out.

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